The Seiko Alpinist is a cult classic among Seiko fans. It’s easy to see why: a 38mm case, sapphire crystal, a solid 6R15 movement and a compass complication you don’t see every day. One of the most recent examples, the green dial SARB017, is one of the most popular entry-level Seikos on the market, especially in the non-diver category. There were rumors that Seiko discontinued the SARB017 in 2018, but they still seem to be on the market and in production. However, in late February 2019, Seiko introduced the SPB089, also known as the blue Alpinist. A limited-edition run of 1959 pieces commemorates 60 years of the Seiko sports watch.
The Alpinist was Seiko’s answer to the Swiss watch industry’s foray into field and sports watches. These watches were specifically targeted at outdoorsmen (or -women) who wanted a watch to accompany them on their journeys through the mountains. The Alpinist was, by Seiko’s claim, the company’s first sports watch. While the Alpinist series had multiple iterations, it wasn’t until the 90s that Seiko introduced what the series is best known for now: an inner rotating compass complication. This complication makes perfect sense given the watch’s intended purpose.
If you are unaware, you can use any wrist watch to find north or south depending on your current hemisphere, but the Alpinist takes it one step further. In the northern hemisphere, you can find south by laying the watch flat and pointing the hour hand at the sun. You then split the distance between the hour hand and 12 o’clock on the dial. If you have an Alpinist, you can then rotate the inner bezel so south is lined up correctly on the dial. It is an unobtrusive way to add a simple, yet highly useful complication to a watch meant to be used outdoors.
Blue is the New Green
The SPB089 is similar in every way to the green SARB017, with the main differences being color choices on the dial. The gold-accented markers are replaced with more subtle silver markers. The radiant green dial has been color-shifted to a beautiful shade of blue (more on the dial color later). For those who loved the SARB017’s overall design but weren’t a fan of green and gold, the blue Alpinist surely hit a home run with them.
The dial layout on the blue Alpinist provides an easy-to-read face with everything you might care about while climbing your mountains in Japan. Cathedral-style hands, filled with plenty of lume, sweep around the 12, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 hour markers. Lume pips are placed on the chapter ring beside every hour marker. A date window at 3 o’clock with a black date wheel is a solid choice. A white date wheel would have stuck out too much and disrupted the symmetry of the dial. The inner compass ring largely blends in with the rest of the dial, giving the wearer the information he or she needs only when looking for it. The cardinal directions are all easy to spot, with north being highlighted in red.
Well…What Kind of Blue is it?
There was some controversy about the color of the dial when this watch first launched. Some initial product pictures looked like matte blue and others made it look like a sunburst blue. The dial is most certainly sunburst blue. In artificial or direct lighting, this is evident. When the watch is in softer lighting, especially on a cloudy day, the dial color appears to be a matte blue. Sunburst dials often play with light in strange ways; I believe the specific shade of blue Seiko used on the SPB089 gives it that effect to the extreme. It is a beautiful dial, no way around it. I find that it looks best in softer lighting when the sunburst effect is at a minimum.
As one of my friends recently put it, “Seiko are case wizards.” Seiko can pull off some impressive case finishing, especially on their more affordable watches. The blue Alpinist is no exception. I’ve never handled the SARB017, so I cannot compare the two, but the finishing here is downright lovely. There is a mixture of brushed and polished surfaces across the entire case. One of my favorite applications of the mixture of finishes is on the lugs. On both sides of the lugs, which are brushed on top, there is a narrow strap of polished surface. It creates a beautiful line for the lugs, one that begs for a bracelet which I wish Seiko had opted for on this watch. The bezel is completely polished, which will be a love-it-or-hate-it reaction from those who are not familiar with the Alpinist. I would have liked to have seen drilled lug holes on the case. The SARB017 does not have them either, but I believe special consideration can be made for a limited edition.
The caseback features standard Seiko markings with the addition of the Alpinist mountain logo, the words “Limited Edition,” and the individual piece number of 1959 in large print. The signed crown at 3 o’clock screws down, while the crown at 4 o’clock does not. The secondary crown is used to operate the rotating internal compass bezel. The 38mm case and 46mm lug-to-lug measurements are perfect for small- to medium-sized wrists. The Alpinist will provide plenty of wrist presence without taking over too much real estate.
Finding the Right Fit
The strap for the SPB089 is an odd choice . I’m not sure a two-stitch black leather strap is the right choice for this watch. With that said, the quality of the strap is a welcome upgrade from Seiko’s normal leather straps. It conforms to the wrist well and is comfortable out of the box. The blue Alpinist will really shine with different strap combinations. I believe light- to mid-toned browns will work best on the SPB089. It will also be interesting to see if aftermarket bracelets for the SARB017 will fit this model. Strapcode has offered some outstanding choices for the SARB017 for some time and the owners of the SPB089 will try them out. If the cases are the same, it will be no problem finding an aftermarket bracelet to fit the SPB089.
After posting some pictures of the SPB089 on Instagram, I received a lot of questions asking what I thought of it. I can’t send this review over DM on Instagram so I summed it up in a couple sentences to those who asked. If you like Seikos and blue dial watches you’re going to love the SPB089. It is really that simple. Seiko has a strong pedigree of producing high-quality watches at generally affordable prices. The SPB089 is no different. It is a well-built watch with beautiful finishing in a color variation the community has been asking for. Granted these will be hard to come by in the future, as most of the pre-SARB017 Alpinist’s are already. If you’ve been a fan of the Alpinist’s design but green and gold weren’t your cup of tea, snag one of these if the opportunity presents itself.
One final footnote – I can’t post this review without addressing some of the controversy surrounding the limited edition release of this watch. Seiko is a business and has a responsibility to its shareholders to make money. Limited editions of a fan favorite are a surefire way to do that. Unfortunately, LEs are something we must live with in the watch community. Watch manufacturers know that fans of their watches will stampede over each other to get their hands on one. With that said, Seiko does have a track history of releasing an LE and then producing alternate versions of that watch later; think the modern interpretations of the SLA017. My hope with the blue Alpinist is that this was an experiment for Seiko to see how fans would react to a new release in the Alpinist line. My hope is that Seiko will release new dial colors and variations of the Alpinist in the coming months. At the time of this review, Baselworld 2019 is a few weeks away, so it is possible we might see some then.
|Lug-to-lug Height||46mm||Lug Width||20mm|
|Crystal||Flat Sapphire||Strap||Leather Strap|
|Water Resistance||200 meters||Lume||Seiko LumiBrite|
More Images of the SPB089
Check out more on the Seiko Alpinist LE here